We have seen that the Watchtower Society God, in the Jehovah Witness mind, sits on a throne ‘in heaven’ issuing his edicts via his spirit broadcasting system. Jesus, sitting at the right hand of the majesty on high (Heb.1:3), is able to ‘inspect the earth’ by means of this same spirit. For a Jehovah’s Witness, God is channelled through a system of government, a hierarchy. Sounds familiar? I want to explore this further as we look at the June 2016 Study Edition of the Watchtower magazine as well as look further into what ‘the Name’ meant in the ancient world.
In the June 2016 Watchtower we find an article entitled “Jehovah Our God Is One Jehovah” which looks at Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the Shema: ‘Listen, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah. You must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.’ (NWT, 2013 edition) The more familiar translation is:
‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ (NIV, 1984, International Bible Society)
‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.’ (ESV, 2001, Crossway Bibles)
Of course Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they are stealing a march on ‘Christendom’ by using the name ‘Jehovah’ in the text. I do question, however, whether this article is really about the Name at all. But more on that later.
To the people of the ancient world a name signified a great deal more than a noun, an identifying label. A person’s name signified his or her character. We sometimes speak of someone having ‘a good name,’ making reference to their character, trustworthiness, etc. and perhaps it would be good to bear that familiar thought in mind because this is how the ancient Hebrews would have understood any reference to God’s Name. They would not have concerned themselves so much with its pronunciation as with their faith and trust in the Name.
Speaking of the Old Testament sanctuary God says, ‘Wherever I cause my Name to be honoured I will come to you and bless you.’ (Exodus 20:24) Note, God did not say, ‘wherever I cause my Name to be pronounced.’ Later God proclaims the sanctuary a dwelling for his Name (Deuteronomy 12:11). Here again his Name is his character and wherever his good Name is associated there he dwells. When God dwells among his people he is associating his people with his Name in this sense of who he is. That is why his people are called to be holy, as he is holy (Leviticus 19:2). His Name is indistinguishable from himself in this picture.
This idea of Name is seen in the psalms, ‘Let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your Name may rejoice in you.’ This rejoicing is a rejoicing in who God is, one in whom we may take refuge, who protects and makes us glad.
Speaking of the angel he would send before the children of Israel to guard them along the way, God counsels, ‘Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.’ (Exodus 23:21) Here ‘the Name’ is associated with an angel. This is not to say that the angel is named Jehovah, but that the angel so represents God’s purpose and will that to disobey him is to disobey God.
As Israel became better established as a monotheistic society the Name YHWH fell into disuse. The argument was that, in a polytheistic society it was important for God to have a Name that distinguished him from other deities. As monotheism became the settled way with Israel the use of the Name became subject to doubt. Does the common use of the Name constitute taking it in vain? By the Hellenistic period (323-31 BC) it was used only in the temple while ordinary people didn’t hear it and were forbidden to pronounce it, substituting Adhonai, Lord. But this took nothing away from what we have understood of God’s character and power. ‘The Name’ (‘ha-shem’) became a popular substitute for YHWH, whose pronunciation was now uncertain. Yet what is meant by ‘the Name’ remained clearly understood from Scripture.
The New Testament carried forward this idea that ‘the Name’ is a good deal more than a distinguishing label, and nowhere in the book of the New Covenant is that Name pronounced. Anyone who calls on the God of such great reputation and power will be saved (Acts 2:21) because it is in his Name we find hope (Matthew 12:21). When Jesus declared in prayer, ‘I have made your name known…’ (John 17:6) God’s nature and will are implied.
God commanded Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name to the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.’ (Acts 9:15) He was speaking of Paul carrying God’s mind and purpose to these people. We well know God’s ‘Name’ in this respect and nothing is lost of it because we refer to ‘the Lord.’
Alan Richardson writes:
‘To believe in the name of someone signifies to believe that the person to whom reference is made is worthy of trust or, more specifically, that he bears his name appropriately or rightly and can perform that which his name or title implies’ (A Theological Word Book of the Bible, p.157)
‘To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…’ (John 1:12)
‘Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.’ (John 2:23)
When Christians are instructed to pray ‘in the name’ of Jesus, e.g. John 14:13, it is an expression of trust in the character, spirit, and attitude of Jesus. His name is not a talisman whose wielding will magic up results, but his character in which, if we believe and trust, he has promised to answer. When Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name…’ (Matthew 18:20) he means ‘ because of me,’ or, ‘because of who I am,’ ‘on my account,’ ‘thinking about me.’
All this shines a light on what Paul means when he writes of Jesus:
‘Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Philippians 2:9-11)
Of course, you will point out that the NWT reads differently, Jesus being exalted, ‘to a superior position,’ but not ‘the highest place’ and being given, ‘the name above every other name,’ not ‘the name above every name,’ indicating that there is yet a higher name than Jesus’ name. There is absolutely no justification for this. It is a classic example of bringing your preconceptions to the text and making the text fit your doctrine. Other translations make it clear:
(CEV) ‘Then God gave Christ the highest place and honoured his name above all others.’
(ESV) ‘Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.’
(GNB) ‘For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.’
(KJV) ‘Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.
(MKJV) ‘Therefore God has highly exalted Him, and has given Him a name which is above every name.’
Every knee will bow and every tongue confess his Lordship when they see his having the highest place and the greatest name, i.e. the name of God. That is to say, the full nature, character, and authority of God. If this was not so then when every knee bows and every tongue confesses him it would be idolatry.
Now consider the standard Jehovah’s Witness presentation showing that we are to use the name of God:
‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.,..’ (Matthew 6:9, NWT, 2013) ‘We are to sanctify the name of Jehovah,’ insists the Jehovah’s Witness. But how did Jesus teach us to pray? ‘Our Father…’ Given all we have learned about how the name we use for God reflects his character and person and our relationship with him, what does this wonderful name ‘Father’ signify? As Christians the ‘Name’ that best describes our relationship with God now is ‘Father.’
Yahweh (Lord, Jehovah)
El Elyon (The Most High God)
Adonai (Lord, Master)
El Shaddai (Lord God Almighty)
El Olam (The Everlasting God)
Jehovah Jireh (The Lord Will Provide)
Jehovah Rapha (The Lord Who Heals You)
Jehovah Nissi (The Lord Is My Banner)
El Qanna (Jealous God)
Jehovah Mekoddishkem (The Lord Who Sanctifies You)
Jehovah Shalom (The Lord Is Peace)
Jehovah Sabaoth (The Lord of Hosts)
Jehovah Raah (The Lord Is My Shepherd)
Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Lord Our Righteousness)
Jehovah Shammah (The Lord Is There)
Yet Jesus instructs us to call God Father.
The most important thing about this name is not how it is spelled, or how we pronounce it, but the depth of meaning it brings to us and the heart devotion it elicits in those who know him as Father. Jehovah’s Witnesses have significant problems when it comes to understanding the Name. Yet, as we turn to the June 2016 Watchtower article we begin to see why its iteration is so important to the Watchtower Society. I have lifted key sentences, highlighting the trigger words in the article.
They needed to trust in Jehovah and be faithful to him as their God.
Moses was reminding the Israelites that their worship of Jehovah must be exclusive.
Jehovah God is not divided or unpredictable. Rather, he is always faithful, consistent, loyal, and true. What an extraordinary privilege for the Israelites—and for us—to be servants of Jehovah, the God who is consistent and loyal in all his ways!
it logically followed that they were to render him exclusive devotion, loving him unreservedly with all their heart, soul, and strength.
For our worship to be acceptable to him, we too must give him exclusive devotion and love him with our complete heart, mind, and strength.
To have Jehovah as our one and only God, we should give him our exclusive devotion.
To give Jehovah exclusive devotion, we must be careful not to allow anything to take, or even to share, the place in our life that Jehovah alone should occupy.
This means that we need to examine our heart constantly to see if it is being enticed by worldly entertainment, associations, and styles of dress and grooming. Or the love of the world might involve efforts to attain “great things,” such as through the pursuit of higher education. (Jer. 45:4,-5) We stand at the threshold of the promised new world.
Each of us should accept it as his or her personal responsibility to contribute to maintaining the oneness in the congregation.
Our taking those words to heart will empower us to face the great tribulation just ahead and contribute to the Paradise to follow. Let us go on rendering exclusive devotion to Jehovah by loving and serving him whole-souled and putting forth earnest effort to maintain oneness in the Christian brotherhood.
A trigger word is any word that initiates a process or course of action and the article is heaped with them. What process, or course of action, what decision are these meant to initiate? Is it really about understanding Deuteronomy 6:4-5? Did you notice how ‘Exclusive devotion to Jehovah’ transformed into devotion to ‘the Christian brotherhood?’ Even the accompanying illustration carries the words ‘Are you contributing to the oneness of the Christian congregation?’ The Name is important to them because they alone use it (as they think) and devotion to the Society is the same as devotion to Jehovah. Even your higher education is regarded as ‘worldly’ because ‘we stand at the threshold of the promised new world.’ They can’t help themselves can they?
It is a basic ploy of a cult to turn devotion to God into devotion to the organisation. If they have exclusive truth – how to understand the Bible, when the end will come, God’s Name – it is with that organisation people are most secure and woe betide any who question their claims. From inside the organisation the outside seems like outer darkness.
Of course, Christians are devoted to the body of Christ, the church, but Christ’s body is not an organisation but an organism in which we grow closer to each other as we grow closer to the God whose ‘Name’ we know to be Most High, Almighty, Everlasting, Provider, Healer, Sanctifier, our Peace, our Shepherd, our Righteousness – our Father.
Teaching Point: God’s name is a truly good name and that is the most important thing to know. To trust in his name is to trust in his goodness, his character. To reflect the many facets of his goodness – his holiness, righteousness, his just and merciful nature – God has many names but our faith is in his nature not in a noun. The most important name we are instructed to call him is Father. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society uses their claim to be exclusively ‘Jehovah’s organisation’ to hold people loyal to the Society but Christians are called to be loyal to the one the Spirit teaches us to call Father (Romans 8:15).